Large Weight Gains most likely for Men after
Divorce, Women after Marriage
Newswise, August 23, 2011– Both marriage and
divorce can act as 'weight shocks,'leading
people to add a few extra pounds –
especially among those over age 30 -
according to a new study.
But when it comes to large weight gains, the
effects of marital transitions are quite
different for men than they are for women.
For men, the risk of a large weight gain
increased most prominently after a divorce.
But for women, the risk of a large weight
gain was most likely after marriage.
“Clearly, the effect of marital transitions
on weight changes differs by gender,” said
Dmitry Tumin, lead author of the study and
doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State
“Divorces for men and, to some extent,
marriages for women promote weight gains
that may be large enough to pose a health
The probability of large weight gains
following marital transitions increased the
most for people past age 30.
“For someone in their mid-20s, there is not
much of a difference in the probability of
gaining weight between someone who just got
married and someone who never married. But
later in life, there is much more of a
difference,” he said.
Tumin conducted the study with Zhenchao Qian,
professor of sociology at Ohio State
University. They presented their research
Aug. 22 in Las Vegas at the annual meeting
of the American Sociological Association.
While there have been many studies about
weight gain after marriage or divorce, most
of them look at average changes in weight
and find very small increases in weight
after marriage and often small decreases in
weight after divorce.
But these results may mask the fact that
some people actually lose weight, while some
stay the same and some have large weight
increases, Qian said.
“We estimated the effects of marital
transitions on the likelihood of weight
gains or losses for different categories of
people, allowing for the possibility that
not everyone who goes through a marital
transition has the same kind of experience,”
Tumin and Qian used data from the National
Longitudinal Survey of Youth ’79, a
nationally representative sample of men and
women aged 14 to 22 in 1979. The same people
were surveyed every year up to 1994 and
every other year since then.
In this study, the researchers used data on
10,071 people surveyed from 1986 to 2008 to
determine weight gain in the two years
following a marriage or divorce.
The NLSY included data on Body Mass Index
(BMI), a common health measure of weight
relative to height.
The researchers separated people into four
groups: those who had a BMI decrease of at
least 1 kg/m2 (about 7 pounds for a person
5’10” tall) in the two-year period after a
marital transition; those who had a small
BMI gain (7-20 pounds for the 5’10” person);
a large BMI gain (more than about 21
pounds); or no weight gain or loss (net
change of less than 7 pounds).
The researchers took into account a wide
variety of other factors that may influence
weight gain or loss, including pregnancy for
women, poverty, socioeconomic status and
Both men and women who married or divorced
were more likely than never-married people
to have a small weight gain in the two years
following their marital transition.
“For most people, the weight gain we see
after a marital transition is relatively
small, not something we would see as a
serious health threat,” Tumin said.
However, most other studies have suggested
divorce actually leads to weight loss, at
least in the first years after the marriage
ends. Again, this may be because other
studies have not separated people into age
and gender groups, and only used average
changes in weight, Tumin said.
The data in this study can’t reveal why men
are more likely to have large weight gains
after divorce, while marriage is more likely
to cause large weight gains for women.
However, these results fit with other
research on how marriage affects men and
“Married women often have a larger role
around the house than men do, and they may
have less time to exercise and stay fit than
similar unmarried women,” Qian said.
“On the other hand, studies show that
married men get a health benefit from
marriage, and they lose that benefit once
they get divorced, which may lead to their
The probability of weight gain become more
pronounced for men and women who marry or
divorce after age 30 and the changes only
grow larger as people get older, the study
“From age 22 to 30, the effect of marital
transitions on weight is not very clear,”
“But both marriages and divorces increase
the risk of weight changes from about age 30
to 50, and the effect is stronger at later
Tumin said that it may be that people settle
into certain patterns of physical activity
and diet over time. “As you get older,
having a sudden change in your life like a
marriage or a divorce is a bigger shock than
it would have been when you were younger,
and that can really impact your weight.”
The researchers noted that this study only
looked at people for two years after a
marital transition, and results may change
over the years.
“This study really looks at the shock of a
marital transition and how it affects
weight,’ Tumin said.